SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday essentially told legislative Democrats to just do it.
If they won’t approve his ideas for “structural reforms,” the governor said, Democrats ought to pass tax increases to pay for the $36 billion budget spending plan they sent him.
Rauner and fellow Republicans say the Democratic spending plan — which did not come with a matching plan for revenue — is $4 billion in the red.
Rauner, echoing recent remarks by House Minority Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, challenged Democrats to either accept some of his “Turnaround Illinois” initiatives or use their supermajority status in both chambers to pass a tax increase and cover their spending.
“If the speaker (Michael Madigan, D-Chicago) and General Assembly don't want to pass any real structural reforms, then they should go ahead and pass a tax increase,” Rauner said in a news conference outside his Capitol office.
The first-term governor from Winnetka says he doesn’t like tax increases, period. And it’s obvious he and fellow Republicans don’t believe Democratic legislators are willing to put nearly every one of their names — without any Republicans to share the heat — on “yes” votes for billions in new taxes.
But that didn’t keep Rauner from taking some public whacks at legislative Democrats on Wednesday.
The governor said they’d sent him “a spending plan that’s $4 billion in the hole and then done nothing else.”
“That’s the kind of behavior that’s got us into this mess in the first place — passing a budget that spends money we don’t have, kicking the can down the road and then pointing fingers and laying blame,” he said.
Would Rauner sign off on a big tax increase?
“They don’t need my signature,” he said, referring to the Democratic super majorities in both the House and Senate.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the governor’s remarks amounted to continued name-calling and contributed nothing new or useful.
“Durkin said that in a letter yesterday,” Brown said of the tax-increase challenge. “It didn't make any sense then, and it doesn't make any sense now. It continues to amaze me — doesn't the governor know how unpersuasive that is?”
The governor also said he wasn’t getting on board for a Democrat-backed, one month budget to get the government through July.
“That bill is a mistake,” Rauner said. It “is just getting to their $4 billion hole one month at a time.”
Democrats reject Rauner’s characterization of the stopgap budget.
“It is not one-twelfth of a budget,” House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, told a committee Wednesday.
Currie said it only funds and seeks to provide essential and time-sensitive services in areas such as public safety and human services.
Rauner and legislative Democrats are locked in a stalemate, and state government on July 1 entered fiscal year 2016 without a budget
Rauner wants substantial change in five areas: workers’ compensation standards, lawsuit reform, a property tax freeze, term limits for elected officials and independent legislative redistricting.
If he gets those, he has said, he’d be willing to talk about raising limited additional revenues.
Democrats say Rauner is unreasonably holding up the budget over non-budget items.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, understands that the governor has prioritized certain issues, “but the state budget and hard-working people shouldn't be hostage to any agenda,” Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said Wednesday.
And, Democrats say, some of the governor's demands simply aren’t acceptable, such as tying a property tax freeze to a measure to allow local governments to opt out of the Prevailing Wage Act and most of collective bargaining.
Madigan has frequently said Rauner is “operating in the extreme” and that his demands, if met, would diminish wages and standards of living for working people.
The governor disagrees with Democrats on both the characterization of his agenda items as non-budgetary and the outcomes they’ll bring.
He argues both the state and its people are economically held back by hostile business policies and a corrupt political culture that combine to send jobs and population out of Illinois.
Also discussed on Wednesday was an effort to continue to pay state employees despite lack of a working budget.
Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, is the lead sponsor of the Rauner-backed House Bill 4245, which would provide a continuing appropriation to allow for full employee pay despite the lack of a 2016 budget.
The governor also announced new pension proposal that he said would be filed in the next couple of days and could save Illinois about $2 billion annually if fully enacted.
Rauner said it includes input from several Democratic leaders, including from the Legislature and from Chicago and Cook County.
Phelon said Cullerton had spent some time with Rauner discussing a constitutional path toward pension reform, but Senate Democrats need to review details of the governor’s proposal.
Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network, a division of the Illinois Policy Institute.